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Giffords, who’s recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, remained at her rehab center in Houston. She traveled to Kennedy for both launch attempts, but the landing time was too inconvenient to warrant another trip, her husband said.

On Monday, she had the stitches removed from the skull reconstruction that she underwent just two days into his flight.

Kelly said he’ll call her as soon as he lands _ he expects his first words to be “I’m back” _ and embrace her once he returns to Houston the day after touchdown.

Kelly said he has no regrets about having made the flight. He took a leave from NASA when the shooting occurred Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz., and for a while thought he might have to quit. But Giffords improved so much that when Kelly moved her to Houston for rehabilitation, he resumed flight training.

“In hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision,” Kelly said. That’s evidenced by the fact that the crew met all of its objectives in orbit: installing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, carrying out four spacewalks, wrapping up the U.S. portion of space station construction.

Endeavour is the second shuttle to be retired; it ultimately will land at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Discovery ended its last voyage in March; its final destination is a Smithsonian Institution hangar outside Washington. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center as a tourist stop.

NASA is leaving the Earth-to-orbit business behind to focus on expeditions to asteroids and Mars. Private companies hope to pick up the slack for cargo and crew hauls to the space station.

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Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html